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Isabel Allende, What she hides behind the pen

Isabel Allende

There are people who do not need presentation because the first name speaks for itself. Have you already read Isabel’s last book?, and it goes without saying that we refer to Isabel Allende. It’s not for nothing, she is the writer who has sold more books written in Spanish language, her works have been translated from Spanish into more than 35 languages and only her first novel has sold more than sixty million copies worldwide.

Chilean by birth and American citizenship by adoption, in what language do you think in and write?

I think, write and make love in Spanish. I can write a speech or an article in English, but fiction, just in my mother tongue.

What was your childhood like?

I lived my early childhood in the house of my grandparents, let's say, my grandfather, because my grandmother died when I was very young. It was not a happy time. I was a sensitive, lonely girl, very imaginative, but I had my mother's unconditional affection.

What roles did your grandparents play in your life?

My grandmother means magic, spirituality, intellectual freedom and a sort of madness, which always gives a nice touch to our existence. The character of Clara in the House of Spirits was inspired by her and there is something about her in many other characters of my novels. When I need to create fantasy, I think of her. My grandfather was a hard-working man, rather severe, responsible, a great patriarch of the family. He taught me not to complain, not to ask for anything and, if possible, to owe nothing, to take care of myself, to help others, to be responsible, punctual, and to quietly practice generosity. For my grandfather nothing was more horrible than ostentation and indiscretion. Those tools he gave me, have been very useful for my life.

What are the most dominant emotions in your life?

I believe that I have lived making a combination of the strict rules that my grandfather taught me, the magic of my grandmother, the love of my mother and the common sense of my stepfather, the ineffable uncle Ramon, as I have always called him, who is already 101 years old. All of this has helped me, pushed me forward and allowed me to retain my dignity before any obstacles of life. But above all, I have been very lucky.

Do you have a good memory?

I have a terrible memory for everything except for the stories. I forget even the names of my grandchildren and I'm never sure if my memories are real or an invention. However, if a story interests me, I will never forget it. Some of them become obsessions to finally write and externalize them.

Journalist and presenter in Chile before the coup, what happened while living in exile?

I also was lucky despite being in exile, because I could go to Venezuela, which in the 1970s was a generous, rich country that accepted immigrants who came from all over the world with open arms, because there were opportunities and work. It was hard for me, especially at the beginning, because I didn’t unpack my suitcase waiting to return to Chile, always looking south and awaiting the return of democracy. I could not imagine that dictatorship would last around 17 years. My husband got a job in a province and we saw each other every two or three months, because I stayed in Caracas with the children. That was fatal for us, as a couple and we finally got divorced.

What memories do you have of Venezuela?

Venezuela was a happy and disorganized country, there was a lot of money and wastefulness, but there was also another concealed Venezuela, where the poor did not enjoy the abundance of oil. This disparity explains Chávez's populism, which mobilized all sectors ignored by traditional political parties. I made very good friends in Venezuela. The Torres family adopted us; my children grew up with their adopted "cousins," the Torres. There, I wrote my first three novels, The House of the Spirits, Of Love and Shadows and Eva Luna. I really love that country and I hope that it overcome soon the current terrible crisis.

Do you write by instinct?

Inspiration is very similar to intuition and instinct, but there is no good writing without hard work and discipline.

Many of your books are experiences of close relatives, why do you share with your public what others would define as private life?

My grandfather must be turning in his grave if he knows my indiscretions. The truth is that I have no secrets, I can tell and share everything. Once my mother asked me if I did not feel very vulnerable because I told so much about my private life and I explained to her that what makes us vulnerable is our secrets and not what we share.

You are divorced from Willie not long ago, your partner for many decades. You have said that when passion’s gone, it is necessary to become more beautiful the relationship. How it can be done?

Obviously, however, as much as I tried, I was not able to grow more beautiful the relationship, since we finally got divorced. I hope to be more lucky with my today love, I try to beautifully cultivate it with good sense of humor, nature, a dog, several friends, books, music, and of course, sensuality.

Would you enjoy the so-called luxury of solitude, even though you have kept a constant company all your life?

Writing requires silence, loneliness and time. Almost all my life, I have had a couple and a family life, but my space of solitude which I defend to death, is sacred.

What is the scar you bear with great pride?

Paula's grief, which made me strong, open-handed and realistic.

Do people get wiser as they get older?

Being older doesn’t make you wiser but better than we already are. If you are mean, you don’t become generous when getting older but pettier. If you want to be a wise old man you better start early to seek wisdom in life.

How do you imagine your old age?

I cannot imagine it, I'm living it already.

Who are the Sisters of Perpetual Disorder?

They are five friends who weekly have been joined me for 25 years to share our lives.


How does a person become a writer, what happened on January 8, 1981?

I started to write my first novel on that January 8th, 1981 as a letter to my grandfather, who was dying in Chile. I suppose I had the whole novel inside me, struggling to be born. I wrote it at night, because I worked 12 hours a day, without a plan, without thinking, page by page, as if I was taken a dictation. I have always believed that my magic grandmother blew it from the hereafter. Since that day I have always started writing all my books, which are 23 now, on January 8. Of course, there is a bit of superstition in that, but mainly discipline, the discipline my grandfather instilled in me from childhood.

And the first novel was published "The House of Spirits" What does the success feel like?

It can be said that I did not enjoy the success, because I was living in Venezuela, where the echoes of what was happening in Europe in relation to the book did not bounce back. When it was published, my agent, Carmen Balcells, told me that anyone can write a good first book, because pages are filled with everything that the writer knows and has lived, she added that the second book is what puts the writer to the test. The following January 8, I started writing Of love and Shadows to prove to Carmen (and myself) that I could be a writer. Three years later, when I finally realized that my first novel faced an exceptional destiny, I quit my job and dared to plan my future in literature.

You have to be very brave to express your emotions in times as hard as those you lived with your daughter, why did you write "Paula"?

That year when Paula was sick and passed away, was extremely painful. Every day passed as if they were the same, experiencing a state of confusion and despair. Writing was my way of mourning, ordering memories, accepting what happened, keeping alive and honoring my daughter's memory. That book saved me from a severe depression and taught me that death is a serious drawback, but it is not an obstacle to communication and love. My daughter is always with me. Among all my books, Paula is the one that has received more responses from readers. In the last 25 years I have received thousands of letters and messages from moved readers. We all experience loss and grief.

After this critical phase, were you driven by lust and gluttony while writing "Aphrodite" and running away from love?

Aphrodite is not only an ode to lust and gluttony but also an exploration for the senses and love. I have never run away from love, on the contrary, I have always searched for it and when I have it, I have taken great care of it. I’m really sorry about my two marriages that ended in divorce, but that has not made me to lose my enthusiasm for love, romance and passion. At the age of 74, I have found love again and I think to take great care of it, so that it lasts until the end.

The trilogy, The House of the Spirits, Daughter of Fortune and Portrait in Sepia is complete, which begins in the year 1848 until 1973, more than a hundred years, how does it go from one time to another?

I have written several historical novels, a genre that I love, because once I thoroughly investigate time and place where the events occur, the rest is easier. To move from one time to another, I used to read dozens of books and documents, but now I also have the Internet, where I can find a lot of information. The most interesting thing is what is always written at the moment by those who lived the events. For example, in the case of Daughter of Fortune, the personal letters written by Chilean miners to their family, when they went to California gold rush, were very useful. They contributed to a different vision to the official version given by the history books.

Do you think that printed book will disappear?

No, but it will be a strange collector's item. The future is the digital support or maybe a chip that could be implanted in our brain allowing us to have access to universal literature while we are sleeping.

Do the stories you write choose you or you choose the stories?

The choice is mutual. Stories are floating in the air and those that mix with me can somehow end up on my computer. They look for me and I welcome some of them.

What does each novel symbolize? And what do they bring to you?

Each book responds to a deep feeling, a life experience rather painful, an obsession. Sometimes I finish the book without knowing why I have chosen that topic like - Island beneath the sea - that right after its publication, when I started receiving the comments of the critic and readers, I understood my motivation. In that case the topic is not only the revolt of the slaves in Haiti more than two hundred years ago; the fundamental topic is absolute power with impunity. I have been always obsessed with that.

“Island beneath the sea” What was your motivation for telling a story in the Dominican Republic?

I was going to write about New Orleans and when I began to study the history of the city, I understood that its French flavor comes from 10,000 refugees who arrived from Haiti in 1800; they were white French settlers fleeing from the revolt of slaves. That story was much more exciting than that one I had planned.

“In the midst of winter” What is the topic of the new book?

Three characters are trapped in a snowstorm for three days in New York State. It's a contemporary story, it happens in January 2016. One quote by Albert Camus inspired me: In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. My characters are in Brooklyn in the winter season, which metaphorically represents the state of winter in their lives. A dramatic circumstance makes them discover the invincible summer that we all have inside, that is, the ability to embark ourselves on adventure, to take risks, to laugh, to love and to be in solidarity.

Is it politically incorrect to be racist in the US, do you consider that there is a lot of racism?

Is Donald Trump's presidential mandate a victory of the "forces of exclusion" within American society? There is racism in the world. In some countries, such as the United States, it is frowned upon. In other places it is not even questioned. The natural tendency of humanity is to form clans, small groups that identify us, and exclude those who are different. As we evolve, we are slowly overcoming these limitations. I see that younger generations are much less racist than their progenitors. Unfortunately, Donald Trump represents the most fearsome of American society: racism, xenophobia, misogyny, contempt for science and intellectual values, sexism, nationalism and populism.

Are the Chilean people racist in general?

Our racism is called classism. The class system is as exclusive and cruel as racism.

Isabel, the woman of a thousand lives who has managed to directly reach the soul of people and has conquered our hearts. Brave and passionate but above all, someone who has not been watching life go by, she has enjoyed every second as if there was no tomorrow, has fallen and gotten up stronger. She would have liked to be taller but when someone is so bright does not need height or beauty even if have them.


What did you have to renounce in your life?
To be tall.

What has been your greatest success?
My two children.

What keeps you awake?
Inequality and poverty.

A trip to be made
None, I have traveled enough.

A book
The next one to be written.

A song
Gracias a la vida.

A movie
Shakespeare in love.

Your hobbies
To do necklace for my friends.

What do you hate most about human beings?

What do you value most?

A place in the world
My room and my bed.

A memory
My newborn children in my arms.

A moment
When I saw The House of the Spirits’ first edition.

A mania

When you was little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
The Zorro.

Keys of your success
Discipline and good luck

TEXT: Almudena Haddad; IMAGES: Lori Barra